Leaving to spend more time with the family

3309480861_7036023f61_zI was scheduled for jury duty this week. Since I hate to cancel things (I find it almost physically painful), I didn’t schedule anything for my summons date and several days after. But the night before, I called the court house and learned I had been excused. This left me with several days of found time. The first thought I had was that I should “spend more time with my family” — before being reminded that when you normally hear this phrase, it’s being used as the world’s biggest euphemism. 

An executive is bored by his job? He’s quitting to “spend more time with my family.”

A presidential aide is pushed out in a palace coup? He’s leaving to “spend more time with my family.”

A non-profit leader is unable to deal with his co-workers anymore? He’s leaving to “spend more time with my family.”

I dislike this phrase for several reasons. For starters, even in very demanding jobs, it’s often possible to spend a lot of time with one’s family. The people who use this phrase tend to be near the top of organizations, which grants them reasonable control of their time. If you want to come in late because you’re bringing your kid to school once or twice a week, you’re probably not going to get fired. If you can schedule lunches with donors, you can schedule lunch with your spouse. If you are powerful enough, you can often get people to come to you — meaning travel can be managed as well. Presenting “demanding job” and “time with family” as opposing forces contributes to the false choice duality so prevalent in the popular narrative.

And second, I dislike that it’s often used as a euphemism. There is nothing wrong with leaving a very good job to be, say, your children’s primary caretaker. But that’s usually not what’s happening in these cases. Something’s not working with the job, and family is used as a nice excuse. It sounds better than “I’d really like to golf more” or “I can’t stand my co-workers.” And since often the person in question intends to find another job, “spending time with my family” comes across as a fallback — there until something better comes along.

Personally, I’d like to see people use the truth. Sometimes it really is the case that people are making a huge lifestyle change in the pursuit of better balance. But if you’re looking for different opportunities, say so. If organizational direction is shifting, say that too. We live in a transparent age. In high enough profile cases, the truth is usually apparent anyway.

(As for what I did during what would have been jury duty: I did multiple puzzles with my 6-year-old, took my 3-year-old to his first day of preschool, went for a swim with the kids, and got caught up on a ton of life maintenance stuff like getting my car’s oil changed).

Photo courtesy flickr user ollesvensson

16 thoughts on “Leaving to spend more time with the family

  1. I had jury duty next week! I just got my excuse letter today, thank goodness.

    I really like this quote from your article:

    “Personally, I’d like to see people use the truth.”

    Isn’t it another non-truthful euphemism when people say “I’m too busy” versus “it’s not a priority”, as you point out in 168 Hours?!

    1. @Archer – definitely. “I don’t have time” is usually not true. Far more accurate to say “I don’t want to do it” or “Given other options for that time period, that doesn’t rise to the top of the list.”

  2. I had lunch with my husband today after serving on a jury! Fastest jury experience ever– I was chosen and we gave a verdict before noon. It’s the first time I’ve been chosen and every other time it’s taken longer than that just to pick the jurors. (And I had no idea there was a courthouse so close to my home– all the other experiences have been long treks across the county.)

  3. In some cases, “spending more time with the family” means they want a job they’re less likely to ruminate about during their off hours.

  4. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, since I am contemplating quitting my job. The proximal cause will be a move that creates a commute that cuts into my family and personal time a bit too much for my taste, but it is still not a terrible commute (~30 minutes each way), so if I really wanted to make it work, I could. So the real reason I’d be leaving is that I want to drastically change my career. But I’m not sure I want to say that, because my plan is a slow motion career change, in which I do contract work in my current field to keep my income up while I build the new career, and I don’t want word getting out that I am not committed to my current field- it might make it hard to get contract work. So I find myself in a situation where I may have to use family as the reason I’m leaving, which is something I wish women wouldn’t do unless it is actually true. I have a few months left to decide what to do, both in terms of whether to stay in the job and what to say if I decide to leave. This is a surprisingly hard decision to make!

    1. @Cloud – You can always use the “pursuing new opportunities” line. Even add “spending less time in the car.” But yes, I agree that I don’t like using the family line unless it really is true. You wouldn’t want people in your company/industry to file it away as a data point for see, moms of young kids just won’t stick with jobs like this. It’s not that it’s too tough to combine work and family — it’s that you’re not thrilled with the job!

      1. Shorter commute is a totally valid reason.
        Most of us have multi-faceted reasons for doing what we do. There are a lot of things that go into our utility functions and a lot of trade-offs we make when making decisions.
        I would worry that using family as a reason would actually hurt your career path, given that you’re female. That kind of thing could mommy-track in the future. The recommendations are generally to talk about the benefits of the new opportunity rather than the problems with the job being left behind (unless, of course, you want to make a point about wanting to be an engineer rather than a manager, or the company’s core function no longer being aligned with your area of interest or any of those other reasons STEM folks leave jobs).

        1. @NicoleandMaggie – interestingly, the “spend more time with my family” line has a reputation for being used more by men than women. Which may be why we view it as a euphemism. Says a lot about the assumptions that are still percolating around.

          And what’s up with your website?? WordPress says it’s gone!

          1. WordPress says we violated their terms of service. We’re not sure why. Either it’s that amazon affiliates aren’t allowed (though that isn’t clear) or they made a mistake. We’re not sure which.
            Which is sad ‘cuz we had a totally awesome and adorable post today on the first 20 words that babies say.

  5. I didn’t use that phrase when I turned down a big promotion but “spending more time with my family” was a guiding reason.

    * The company offered very little flexibility from August to November and none during December.

    * My mom was dying of cancer.

    * My son was two months old and my husband traveled frequently. I could not find reliable childcare for late work nights or those inevitable sick days. I had accumulated weeks of sick time, but I couldn’t use them. My boss actually urged me to hire a nurse, as she did when her children were ill, after I took one sick day for my child. (Her salary could handle a hired nurse much more than mine could.)

    That said, if I truly loved my job and management, I would have worked harder to find better childcare and take FMLA time for my mom.

    Without “family reasons,” I might have stayed in a job that wasn’t the right fit for me. I made the move to a position elsewhere that offers great flexibility and rewarding work.

    I don’t earn quite as much as if I stuck it out at that company, but 15 years later, I can still say it was the right decision for me.

  6. I hate that it’s a joke at all. IE, I’d really, totally admire a CEO who would quit of his/her own volition to actually focus on family concerns. But now it’s just a joke about what people do when they’re fired or asked to resign, making it a lesser choice that no one “good at their job” would pick.

    I think leaving a job is always a multifaceted decision – it’s weighing pros and cons of a number of things both personal and work-related, and finally deciding one day that it’s just not worth it. There’s the straw that broke the camel’s back, but that’s almost never THE reason.

  7. aaaah life maintenance of the working parent… you complain when they are in diapers then they start school and there is like paperwork for that… would be funny just to have people like compile life maintenance stuff in a funny way… resubmitted the credit card form to daycare for the same credit card. to be used anther year. renewed insurances. shopped insurances. picked out school supplies off a list. scheduled makeup swim lesson. vs. like the joy stuff.. bought my kid dumplings b/c I can and b/c she likes to find them in her lunchbox… felt indian summer day and said thanks .. be fun to juxtapose them .. how did you get in the pool after labor day on a weekday..

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